The Bass and the Frog
September 28, 2010
From the Pearl River to Delacroix to the Red River, Louisiana boasts fantastic habitat for boating feisty largemouth bass on frogs. (April 2009)
There is nothing quite like a frog when it comes to catching Louisiana bass.
Louisiana guide Homer Humphries relies on frogs to lure bass from the log piles and standing timber along the Red River.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Bruhl.
Anglers from the Pearl River across the state to the Red River know that frogs handle a variety of cover, come in assorted shapes and sizes and effectively put bass in the angler's livewell. Pearl River's lily pads, Delacroix's grassbeds and Red River's standing timbers and laydowns are only a few of the possible targets that hold springtime bass. From one end of Sportsman's Paradise to the other, guides and professional anglers alike rely on frogs for great springtime action.
Bass anglers refer to anything in the water -- timber, grass, docks or rocks -- as "cover." Such items are important for bass because they provide ambush points, protection from other predators and shade. Aquatic vegetation like hydrilla or lily pads and standing timbers have everything needed to hold bass. Cover, in almost any form, provides the foundation of a miniature aquatic ecosystem. Insects, shrimp and other small organisms attract frogs and other creatures, which, in turn, draw bass in for a meal.
Not surprisingly, fishing frog baits in and around all sorts of cover on Louisiana waters is a realistic tactic for attracting the attention of a hungry largemouth bass.
Delacroix is a shallow maze of lakes, bayous and canals just southeast of New Orleans. Leary, Grand, and Little lakes are a few locations around Delacroix where hydrilla, also known as Esthwaite Waterweed, is a prominent form of cover. This aquatic vegetation, which has a high resistance to salinity, ranges from thick, matted beds to sparsely isolated clumps in the brackish water along the coast. Delacroix's tidal water is a tough code to crack, but grass is a good place to start.
Hydrilla beds with several feet of water may hold bass in the morning but not produce a single fish on a falling tide in the afternoon. Frogs in popping, buzzing and walking styles can be adjusted to optimize performance during different tidal conditions. From the thickest mat to the shallowest isolated clumps, floating, weedless frogs can efficiently hop and pop over the grass. Anglers who crack the code of grass and tide in Delacroix are rewarded with a great fishing trip.
Boler, a touring B.A.S.S. Open pro and former Bassmaster Classic Qualifier, targets the grass on secondary points in the lakes at Delacroix. A junior-size Spro frog is a primary lure for the Slidell angler.
"Isolated patches of grass near secondary points are the first place I stop," began Boler, who is an All Star Classic Rod pro. "Main-lake points get fished hard, but few anglers continue to the smaller points. The past few years of hurricanes have scarred the marsh, creating many small outflows and indentations."
On bluebird days, Boler flips the grass. Others days, the frog comes out of the rod box and searching begins in the drains, grass patches and shoreline irregularities. Many waters around Delacroix contain both hydrilla and irregular shoreline features. Artificial frogs handle the shallow water, grass and shoreline features of Louisiana marshes. The body of the bait easily glides over matted surface grass, hops like a frog between isolated patches, and walks through the open drains of the lakes around Delacroix.
Target structure or vegetation, such as hydrilla or lily pads, when using frogs to chase bass.
Photo by Jeff Bruhl.
"I prefer to work the bait to imitate a frog swimming or hopping in a straight line," added Boler, who competes in local Media Bass events near Slidell. "The fish will usually dictate the speed of the retrieve. Some days it is a slow steady retrieve and others it is a fast hop with a few pauses mixed in."
The Pearl River near Slidell breaks into numerous branches as it flows toward its mouth. Middle, eastern and western tributaries are areas with winding curves and lily pad flats. Emerging every spring, the lily pads provide all the properties of good cover. Bouncing a frog through the emerging stalks and pads, the water will explode violently as a frog sneaks from one pad to the other.
Matt McCabe, a Pearl River Media Bass tournament winner, bounces a Bobby's Perfect Frog around the pads of the Pearl River System. McCabe is another Slidell angler who knows frogs produce big fish in and around pads.
"Pads with long stems in three feet of water or deeper are the best areas on the East and West Pearl rivers," stated McCabe, who fishes numerous tournament events in Delacroix and Pearl River areas. "Try to target the outer edges of the pads and avoid crawling the lure over the pads."
Many bends of the lower Pearl have lily pads. McCabe often targets the lower Pearl because the pads extend outward for several hundred yards. This gives McCabe an idea of where the fish will relate to the bend on a given day. Tide and water depth may position the fish on the outside bends on some days or on the points of inside curves on other days. Reading the conditions of the river helps put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
When the Red River was converted to a lock and dam system, the backwaters flooded miles of trees. Over time, the waterlogged trees decayed, leaving some stretches of the Red River peppered with fallen trunks and stumps. Fallen tops, standing trunks, and floating logs and debris are excellent cover for a hungry bass. From a depth of one foot to trees standing in 10 or 15 feet of water, walking a frog around the trunks, laydowns and trash piles is a technique used by local anglers and guides to fool Red River bass. Frogs worked in such a manner find fish in the open areas as well as the thickest, nastiest stuff on the river.
Homer Humphries has made his living guiding anglers up and down the Red River near Shreveport. Among his years of experience are a first-place finish in a B.A.S.S. event on the Red River and a second-place finish at the 2008 B.A.S.S. Central Open.
"When fishing backwater oxbows, standing timbers, laydown logs and wood cover hold bass," advised Humphries, who is a Bass Cat Team member. "A Swamp Do
nkey Frog goes through the log piles and works well in the open water around the timber."
The Red River is famous for its rough terrain. Stumpfields, timbers just below the surface, and mazes of debris like logs and floating vegetation make getting to a key area difficult. Frogs are adapted to handle the situation because of the weedless design.
"Cast the frog into the thickest stuff you can find and work it back to the boat through the open water," continued Humphries. "Work the frog over or around any laydown logs. Standing timber on humps or flats is a great area to get on a good frog bite in the spring."
PICK YOUR FROG
Lures that imitate frogs come in multiple shapes and sizes. Three basic types of frog baits are "popping," "buzzing," and "walking" frogs. Popping frogs are soft-body lures designed to be popped on the surface much like a flyfisherman's popper. The cupped mouth allows the lure a very slow presentation, which is great for probing the grassbeds. Buzzing frogs are soft-plastic lures with legs that churn water. A slow, steady retrieve causes the rear legs to kick up a storm. The presentation is similar to a buzzbait. Walking frogs are similar in body material to poppers, but the rounded noses allow the bait to be walked or hopped across the surface. Each type of frog has its place in the tackle box.
Popping frogs like a Scum Frog work well over thick mats of vegetation like those in Delacroix. Pop the lure in the thickest mat, over isolated cover, or in the breaks of any grass patch. Weedless design allows the popping frog to perform with few hangups or entanglements in the grass. The splashes caused by the cupped mouth draw vicious strikes from ambushing bass.
Buzzing frogs like a Stanley Ribbet or Berkley Batwing cover water and probe lily pads, grass and wood cover better than the buzzbaits. As the legs kick out the action, the weedless setup bounces off stumps, jumps over grass, and slides over and around lily pads. A steady retrieve, crank and pause, or jerk and reel presentation in and around cover is the ticket for pulling bass out of their hiding spots.
Walking prototypes hit the market in a new way when baits like the Swamp Donkey Frog and Bobby's Perfect Frog moved onto the scene. Although they work in water devoid of cover, areas with a mix of standing timbers and laydowns are prime places to pitch a frog. It takes some practice to walk a frog like a Zara Spook. However, the time it takes is worth the effort.
Pro anglers recommend a few tips on increasing hookups and landing fish. First, when a strike occurs, wait on the hook to set. Many eager anglers pull the bait away from the bass before the fish can engulf the bait. Admittedly, adrenaline and reflex causes many missed opportunities.
"Not waiting for the bass to turn and take the bait down is the biggest rookie mistake made," added McCabe. "The best technique is to drop the rod tip, pause for a second, and then hammer the hook home."
Next, a hook sharpener is a handy tool for increasing the penetration properties of the frog. A few passes with a stone or sharpening tool makes the large wire hook penetrate the tough skin of bass.
"Frog hooks should be sharpened often," added McCabe. "Check the hooks often for sharpness. This will increase the strike-to-catch ratio."
Another tip is bending the hook points up slightly to widen the gap between the point of the hook and the body of the bait. Baits out of the packages have problems with the hook points burying into the soft body. Hooks bent slightly up away from the body eliminates the problem.
"Opening the gap of the hook slightly upward will greatly increase the hookup ratio," advised Boler. "This prevents the hook from digging into the frog's soft-plastic body. The disadvantage is the bait will hang up more."
Humphries is right in the pack with other anglers when it comes to lure modification. Trimming the legs, adding rattles, and weighting the bodies are a few additional tips that can improve the action on the frog.
"Add a small rattle to the body of the frog," Humphries suggested. "A rattle is an extra attractant to the fish. It helps them locate the bait in stained or muddy water."
After setting up the bait with the proper bend in the hook, a freshly sharpened hook and a new rattle, the proper equipment is needed to pry bass out of the heavy cover. Braided line, high-speed reels and heavy-action rods matched to the bait and cover help increase strikes and hookups. Stout equipment wrenches the fish out of the cover quickly, increasing the odds of getting the fish to the boat. If the cover is thick, braid in the 65-pound-test range is a must. In open water with sparse cover, an angler may drop down to 50- or even 30-pound-test braid. Braid does have its disadvantages. Long casts into wind may cause aggravating backlashes, but new products like Stren Sonic Braid and Braid Aid are specifically designed to decrease the number of backlashes. When more casts hit the intended target, the angler increases the odds of catching fish.
"High-performance braid is a must for fishing a frog," Boler said. "Power Pro has no stretch, which is a must for a solid hookset. Frogs have heavy wire hooks and you need as much force as you can get to drive the hook home."
Depending on the type of frog used and the technique employed, the right rod is another key component in frog fishing. A good 6-foot, 10-inch heavy-action rod is great for walking a frog and casting under docks and overhanging trees, and it produces less fatigue than bigger rods. Heavy, extra-fast rods measuring 7 feet, 2 inches or 7 feet, 6 inches are best for deep cover work. The extra length and power get the fish out of the cover quickly and moving toward the boat.
"If you work the lure like a topwater plug, try a 6-foot, 10-inch rod for better walking action," Humphries suggested. "If you are fishing thick grass, pads or logs, use the longer rods, because getting the fish out of the junk is key to landing more fish."
There are no hard rules to frog fishing. As with bass fishing, what works one day falls flat the next day. Tides, water condition and other factors dictate fish location. Frog-style lures handle cover like Hydrilla, pads, and wood. Heavy braided line and rods like broom sticks work the angler like a day at the gym. When the angler combines the right cover with the proper presentation, a day on the end of a frog rod is an outing with heart-stopping strikes and big rewards. The next time the destination is Delacroix, Pearl River or Red River, bring out the frog and target some cover for a day of great topwater action.